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2 brewers, 1 goal: How two very different craft beer companies are hoping to get ahead in 2015

How are the old hands in Irish craft beer getting along with the new brewers on the block?

IT’S DIFFICULT TO keep count of the number of new Irish micro-breweries coming on stream at the moment.  A recent report estimated there would be around 50 of the boutique brewers on the go by the end of the 2014 (more on that here, in our article from the other day).

And, although the sector boxes well above its weight in terms of media attention and general visibility — in reality, the craft beer market still makes up only a tiny percentage of the country’s total beer consumption: 1.2 per cent, to be precise.

We caught up with the driving force behind one of the latest additions to the market, and one of the more established players, to talk about their hopes for 2015 … and beyond.

The new brewers on the block…

Cathal O’Donoghue and Emma Devin developed their obsession with craft brewing while living in New Zealand back in 2009.

Starting off as enthusiastic amateurs, the couple honed their skills over home-brew kits — no doubt gaining plenty of new friends in the process as they doled their product out for testing.

On returning home, they racked up wins in two prestigious brewing competitions — prompting a bold decision to plough all of their savings into their own brewery.

Cathal and Emma Source: Rascals Brewing

Cathal — a former pharmaceutical engineer — now heads up the operation on a day-to-day basis. Emma’s continuing with the day job, in tandem with her role in brewery.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie in the unglamourous environs of Rascal’s HQ — a West Dublin industrial estate unit, O’Donoghue is already making plans for expansion.

Best scenario?… I would like to think that we would have upscaled from this brewery to a bigger one in the next three to five years, and would be employing up to ten people.

Indeed, the couple have been busy since moving into the Rathcoole unit back in February.

Their 950 litre brewery had to be dismantled and transported across the country from its former home (it’s Galway Bay’s old kit) — before being put together once again in Dublin.

Says O’Donoghue: ”My experience in the pharma industry came in handy there.”

Since then, they’ve stepped up production to 50 per cent capacity on their current equipment — and their beer’s now available in 23 pubs around the country (and counting)

In the short-term, there’s a tough decision to be made on whether or not to start bottling — “a massive step up in production costs, we’ll have to look at the figures”.

And already, there are plans to build-in extra capacity at the Rathcoole plant:

We’re putting a mezzanine in, which would give us loads more room for more kegs and more vessels.

Cathal (left) tests the brew, alongside colleague Andy Saul Source: Daragh Brophy

The recent surge of growth in the sector, which has even prompted Guinness to jump on board the bandwagon with two ‘craft beers’ of its own shows there’s “definitely something there” says Cathal…

And although Irish brewers typically have to compete with imports from the US, Belgium and elsewhere.

“More and more people are wanting to buy Irish.

They want to see where it was made. They want to find out more about it. They want to see the brewery.We wouldn’t be involved if we didn’t think it would work.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The early adapter

Just a few miles further west, Stephen Clinch is overseeing production at the much larger Trouble Brewing plant — in a business park just outside Kill in Kildare.

Set up by three friends from the northside suburbs of Dublin in 2009, the brand now has a well-established foothold in the domestic craft beer market. More than 30 pubs offer it on tap — and it’s on the shelves of independent off-licences in pretty much every county.

Trouble Brewing — along with companies like Galway Hooker and the Galway Bay Brewery — was part of a wave of craft brewers that immediately preceded the recent surge of entrants to the sector.

Stephen Clinch mans the pumps at a craft beer event. Source: Trouble Brewing/Flickr

Clinch says he’s by no means surprised by the growth in craft beer sales over recent years — although he admits finding it a little difficult to keep track of all the new brews on the block.

The absolute number of brewers at any one time is pretty fluid because there are so many contract brewers, who wouldn’t have a brewery themselves but would use someone else’s.

For the first two or three years, however, there were “between 12 and 15″ smaller brewers in the country.

“There was a real community feel that you could phone anyone up and it was all very friendly

Now — because the thing is shifting and moving so quick — it’s very hard to keep up with who’s who and what brewery is what brewery.

The Trouble Brewing facility near Kill Source: Daragh Brophy

In terms of Trouble Brewing’s immediate future plans — getting onto the shelves of a major supermarket chain is ”something we’d definitely be interested in … Getting our beer more available to the public”.

And as for the future of the sector in general — there’s still plenty of room for growth, Clinch says.

“Craft beer is still a tiny tiny fraction of beer sales — but there’s a massive interest in it. I think there’s definitely plenty of room for more and more people to come into craft beer.

Also — it’s based on solid products in a lot of cases… Once people start getting into craft beer, it tends to be the case that they start bringing more and more people in with them.

“I think its justifiable. I think people have an interest in it because 98 per cent of people are drinking two beers or three beers and are completely disinterested.

“It’s making people talk about beer and try beer — as opposed to not thinking about it at all, and just going out and drinking 6 or 7 pints of the same beer.”

It’s predicted there could be 500 people employed in the craft brewing industry by the end of the decade, according to research commissioned by Irish brewers.

According to the latest research, there are just over 100 full time jobs in the sector at the moment — but even still, that’s almost doubled since 2011.

Read: Taste of recovery: 400 new microbrewery jobs on the way by the end of the decade

Read: Meet the Celtic Tiger builder with a micro-brewery in his swimming pool

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